By John Ikani
Nigeria’s Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, has identified what he called politicising of railway development as one of the major challenges facing the country in the government’s effort to stimulate the economy.
Speaking at the yearly public lecture of the Department of Economics, University of Lagos, Ameachi said ethnicity was a big challenge to development in Nigeria, noting that rail projects around the country are built with the economy at the heart of it, because the economy Should be the deciding factor for such developments, not ethnic biases.
According to him, “Virtually everything we do involves transportation. It is a key element in driving the development of economies all over the world, and it creates possibilities for other sectors. Therefore, you can’t even create employment if you don’t create logistics.
“Nigerians are too ethnically conscious. You think first as your ethnicity before you think as a Nigerian. We have very few Nigerians, and ethnicity is putting pressure on the economics of railway construction. What you hear is, ‘I’m a Yoruba man, I’m an Hausa man, I’m an Igbo man.’ The Yoruba man is happy that we have done Lagos-Ibadan; the moment you do the railway up to Enugu, the Igbo man would be happy. I call it the politicisation of railway construction.
“Railway is fuelled by economic activities; it’s not fuelled by tribes. What determines a railway construction is economics, how many tons of cargo can be conveyed.
“Ethnicity is not the way to go. Those who fan the embers of ethnicity are those who were benefitting from the government in the past, but are no longer benefitting from the government.”
Ameachi also identified financing as another challenge to railway development, stressing that Nigerians are complaining about loans deployed for the projects.
He explained that the Kaduna-Kano railway project is being financed from the budget, but the country is still negotiating for foreign loan to construct Ibadan to Kaduna railway.
“From the budget we are now constructing the Kaduna-Kano rail line while still negotiating the loan for Ibadan to Kaduna, because the plan is Lagos to Kano. So far, the federal government has laid out plans for the construction of Lagos-Calabar at $11.1 billion, Ibadan-kano at $5.3 billion for single track, Port Harcourt-Maiduguri at $3.02 billion for reconstruction of narrow gauge, $12 billion to $13 billion for standard gauge approved by the President with additional spurs, Abuja-Itakpe at $3.9 billion in addition to the central line; and Lagos-Ibadan completed at $2 billion,” he added.